As Lent Begins…

News in Britain has been focusing on controversies around Prince Andrew’s role, political rows over what should be done as events develop in Libya, and revelations of the vast salaries given to local officials and bureaucrats at a time of national austerity. None of these are trivial, and the last on the list raises moral issues that affect many families, as the highly-paid are busy announcing cuts in all sorts of basic services from public libraries to home-care for the elderly and frail.

Then suddenly comes the news of the horrific earthquake and tsunami in Japan, and the perspective changes. How can we help? It’s half a world away, but every instinct is that any possible help must be given. There will, in due course, be plenty of work for charities to do too, and there will be appeals for funds. Catholic charities, in Britain as elsewhere, will be among those inviting donations and working to get help to those who need it.

As Lent begins, every parish in Britain will, in any case, be collecting the usual Lenten alms – usually selecting a couple of specific charitable projects to be funded during this season. Catholic schools, too, will be busy. This year, it is noticeable that among the Pastoral Letters issued by various Bishops, there has been a tendency to refer to traditional Lenten practices – fasting, “giving up” things, a special mention of the Friday tradition. And, as always, the distribution of ashes on Ash Wednesday was marked by large crowds at churches.

During Holy Week, priests will assemble in each diocese for the Chrism Mass at the cathedral. In London, there are two dioceses – Westminster and Southwark – and at each cathedral the priests will be greeted by groups holding up placards saying “Thank you to our priests” and distributing holy cards. This began a few years ago, partly as a response to campaigners for the ordination of women, who used to picket the Chrism Masses. They have disappeared now, but the “Thank You” has become a tradition, and one that is much appreciated.

Your correspondent, along with fellow-members of the Association of Catholic Women, is busy organizing the gathering at Westminster Cathedral. This year’s thank-you cards will carry words from the great Pope John Paul II, to celebrate his forthcoming beatification.

So as Lent begins, we have plenty to think about and plenty to do.